When the Rangers lost the first three games of the season, it was expected. The only expectation for the Rangers this season is that there are none. It’s an 82-game tryout for the organization to determine who will be part of the team in 2019-20 and beyond, all while Henrik Lundqvist wilts away like the rose in the glass case in Beauty and the Beast waiting for a surrounding team of contender-worthy players that’s never going to show up to save his career.
In those first three losses, the Rangers lost a one-goal game to Nashville, a team that could very well win it all this season. Then they lost in Buffalo, scoring just once against a Sabres team that is improved, but nowhere near a team that goals should be hard to come by against. Then the next night, they scored five goals against Carolina to prove they do have some scoring ability. Except they gave up eight in Lundqvist’s first night off of the season.
I didn’t care the Rangers were 0-3, pointless and sitting at the bottom of the Eastern Conference in the first week of the season. Losses and a lot of them should be expected this season as players with little to no NHL experience gain just that and the Rangers improve their chances at landing Jack Hughes or another franchise players next June.
After those three very different losses, the Rangers beat the Sharks, a Cup favorite, in overtime at the Garden, lost a tough one to Oilers on a late Connor McDavid goal, beat the Avalanche — a playoff team last spring — in a shootout and took the defending champions to overtime on the road on the second night of a back-to-back. The Rangers picked up five of a possible eight points against some very good competition over seven days, but more importantly, they proved they will be fun to watch this season.
I’m sure that fun will fade away as we near the trade deadline and the team is closer to the bottom of the conference than they are to the playoff bubble, and I’m sure it will fade even more when they move some of the only remaining tradable assets they have left following last season’s firesale. But until, I expect Rangers games to be enjoyable as each win feels like a major accomplishment and each game feels like a playoff game since this team has absolutely no margin for error and can’t afford the kind of losing streak they endured to open the season if they want to shock the hockey world.
The problem is the best-case scenario for the Rangers would be to miraculously sneak into the postseason as a bottom seed or just miss the playoffs. In reality, that’s actually a worst-case scenario. Every point the Rangers accumulate is detrimental to their goal of rebuilding and getting to pick at the top or near the top of the 2019 draft. This team isn’t supposed to win. It’s not that the players aren’t trying to do so, it’s that they’re not supposed to. This is supposed to be a complete rebuild and any winning creates an obstacle to that goal.
The biggest obstacle for the Rangers is in their own net. Lundqvist won’t settle for anything other than greatness and every night he’s in goal, the Rangers have a real chance to win, especially with the way he has played early on. As long as Lundqvist tries to single-handedly will this young and inexperienced group to wins, the rebuild is in trouble and the dream of landing a potential superstar in June slowly deteriorates.
Unfortunately, for Lundqvist, his best won’t be enough to keep these Rangers relevant through the winter and into the spring. For as fun as the last week was, the Rangers are still only 2-4-1 with a minus-6 goal differential and haven’t won a game in regulation.
The expectations haven’t changed with the Rangers and that is that there aren’t. But win or lose, for the time being, these Rangers are fun to watch.